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What Are the Best Spree Cards in Standard?

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So, there I am.

It's pushing midnight but I've only played maybe fifteen total minutes. My #OTJ #Prerelease deck has two copies of Vadmir, New Blood, and a heck of a lot of good ways to target my opponent's stuff.

More than once I've opened on...

Vial Smasher, Gleeful Grenadier

... and followed up with Vadmir with two good removal cards in hand. Like I said, I think I've played maybe fifteen total minutes. And that includes the shuffling.

But my opponent playing for the laudable title of Outlaws of Thunder Junction Prerelease Champion has already taken Game 1 from me. I kept a hand with:

Raven of Fell Omens

Into

Hostile Investigator

... But a well-placed Thoughtseize took my Investigator on turn three. Talk about committing a crime! Talk about some pinpoint discard. I lose Game 1 with a hand full of red crimes - we used to call them "removal" and all Swamps in play.

In Game 2 I operate as I had in previous rounds. Vadmir is an 8/8 lifelink and acting like The Abyss even through his Luxurious Locomotive. Beats up his gigantic Stingerback Terror.

But its three and I'm flooding. I opened on double Raven of Fell Omens but they're outclassed in the sky by the aforementioned Stingerback Terror. Can I find removal for it?

Kinda sorta doesn't matter when he plays this:

Sword of Wealth and Power

Okay, okay. Breathe, MichaelJ. We can race this. We have to try to race this with Drains.

"That has trample, right?"

Argh.

End of turn?

Three Steps Ahead

Argh! I was just trash talking Spree cards. Now he's going to Clone the already nigh-lethal trampling Dragon and also drawing...

"You can't," I stop him, halfheartedly. "That has protection from instants and sorceries."

The good thing is that I'm not going to be facing down another Dragon when I already have to chump to stay alive.

The bad thing of course is that I'm leaving him with a Counterspell in hand. He doesn't need to be three steps ahead - or even the two he just attempted. Just a Cancel is going to be enough to beat me from this spot.

I will not be your Outlaws of Thunder Junction Prerelease Champion. Mighty Casey Has Struck Out.

Three Steps Ahead

Upon total review of the Spree cards in Outlaws of Thunder Junction I've downgraded Three Steps Ahead to the second-best one. I still think most Spree cards are kind of bad, but there are about six I'd consider playing of the mechanic's twenty-one. I'm pleasantly surprised that a good number of them are neither rare nor mythic rare. And the splashiest seem like some of the suckiest!

Well not sucki-est maybe. If we still had Block Constructed or if Standard rotations weren't as long as they currently are, cards like Final Showdown might be playable. But we don't live in either of those universes, regardless of how close by they might be.

Let's look at some of the splashier Sprees to divine what's generally wrong with this mechanic:

Final Showdown

Why does this card get into your deck?

Presumably it's for the "Wrath" effect. Well "Wrath" is a bit generous. If you want to prevent regeneration, it costs 7 mana, actually; and that is dubious. So, you have a 6 mana Day of Judgment. That might not be terminal in and of itself - again, if we had Block Constructed still, this might be an All-Star - but for Standard (and greater) play it's competing with Farewell at six and Sunfall on multiple dimensions.

It doesn't matter how cool anything else is: The card just doesn't get into your deck.

"But what if you want to save a creature when you sweep all the other creatures?"

For seven? For eight?

Sunfall gives you a potentially giant creature as part of the initial 5 mana! Sure, you don't get to attack that turn, but imagine how many games you actually get to play to turn seven or eight by not having to wait an extra turn or three for your Wrath. Isn't that a nice give back?

What about for 1 mana?

Imagine your opponent is starting their turn with a Jukai Naturalist and a Generous Visitor in play. Might it not be nice to take away their abilities and prevent an explosive turn?

I mean, yes? At least maybe? But it's also kind of bad. You could have just had Temporary Lockdown in your deck and that would have taken away both their abilities and their presence on the battlefield! Also you would not have used your sweeper already so you could actually kill these creatures upon getting to 6+ mana. Also you would have had to have Final Showdown in your deck; which, I think, you won't.

Here is an even more extreme example:

Great Train Heist

This card certainly has a lot of text on it.

But the single most important thing has to be the first ability. No one is playing this just for the treasure-making; and the middle ability is one of infinitely bad Overruns that never get played in any color. The first one has to make it, or Great Train Heist never makes it into your deck.

Luckily! At 2rr it has the exact cost of this card:

Relentless Assault

The problem of course is that Relentless Assault has never really been a successful Constructed card; and it had far, far less to compete with decades ago.

In the history of Magic there have been about 36 cards with the text "additional combat phase" ... and as splashy as many are, few have ever been big tournament performers.

The coolest was this one:

Godo, Bandit Warlord

This card was actually super cool. We would sometimes pair it with Umezawa's Jitte. The best thing I can say about Godo, though, is that it was cut from Andrew Cuneo's first draft of the deck that Osyp Lebedowicz eventually used to make Top 8 of Pro Tour Honolulu.

Instead the role of "expensive creature with one Red mana symbol in the top-right" went to Ryusei, the Falling Star.

The tension in Spree is largely between cards that do a bunch of things not-very-well and just pure ridiculous splashiness. Some of the cards seem like they're almost there. Almost. They do everything in kind of an expensive way, but you might want some of these effects.

Here are some good examples:

Getaway Glamer - It's not "just" a bad Momentary Blink. It's the Momentary Blink we have. A unique ability might get some traction. If someone points out to me that there is some other Blink and it just doesn't get played... Well that probably says even more than I just did.

Jailbreak Scheme - The second ability is novel enough for Blue that you might actually get a lot of use out of it if Jailbreak Scheme were already in your deck. But there's the rub! It has to be in you deck first, and the first ability is pretty flaccid on rate. Compare it - or either ability, almost - to Slip Out the Back. Man, long Standard rotations are brutal for Spree.

Explosive Derailment - This card was good for me in Limited so I really wanted to like it. But for 3 mana you kind of have to be able to kill Sheoldred, you know? There are at least three better ways to do that. And if you're only going to deal 4 mana... Obliterating Bolt is cheaper, and does more. I like the optionality of the second ability... But have you read Abrade? This card is so almost there. But you know what they say about "almost".

But what about cool? Can we do something so cool with Sprees that it might be worth talking about?

One Last Job

Let's tell a story, shall we? One Last Job. The name tells us that we're not just playing Magic, we're weaving an all-time tale about Magic.

Can you imagine?

Getting the squad back together. Well, in this case "the squad" includes a vehicle and an equipment?

How did they get into the graveyard? Isn't the point of diversifying into vehicles and equipment to blunt the efficacy of opposing sweepers? Never mind. Doesn't matter. We're telling a story. And the story is going to be cool.

We're getting these cards back and...

For how much mana?

And do they have haste or something? How did they get into the graveyard again? Did I put them there?

The reality is, if you want to just get three permanents onto the battlefield for a flashy finish, you don't have to spend 7 mana to do it. The bigger thing is just that the first ability was barely competitive twenty years ago at 2ww, forget about 4w.

Are all Sprees bad? No. Here are six that I think are all pretty good. But most of them aren't exciting at all.

6. Dance of the Tumbleweeds

Dance of the Tumbleweeds

Hear me out: This is a terrible Rampant Growth. However! Even without the Rampant Growth ability (which is the better ability, oddly) it's not a bad creature. 4g for an X/X implies that it will be 5/5. That is full-on not that great. But with Dance of the Tumbleweeds you have an implication of 7/7+ for 6 mana. That is, again, not super exciting... But all together it isn't that bad of a package.

5. Caught in the Crossfire

Caught in the Crossfire

I just like the bias you can lean into here. Play all Outlaws (or no Outlaws). You build your own one-sided Pyroclasm... Except it's an instant. This is a little worse than Vampire's Vengeance from a surgery standpoint (and you don't get the Blood token) but has some wider targeting (actually, strangely not specifically "target"-ing, and not a crime) applications that give it some consideration. But this card is basically a Vampire's Vengeance for a different context. Again, not super exciting.

4. Requisition Raid

Requisition Raid

Literally Disenchant. But! With some upside and potential card advantage. By definition this card is going to see play in any format where people play Disenchant because it's just better. It will, in some cases, be exciting. But not usually.

3. Insatiable Avarice

Insatiable Avarice

This card is a trick. The first ability is one of the worst Vampiric Tutor analogues ever. But the second ability is kind of an upgrade to the Abzan Charm model of drawing two cards and paying two life for two cards (but three colored mana). You get three for three instead... And that seems rough sometimes, but has to be better most of the time for anyone in the market for paying two life for two cards. It is in fact great with Sheoldred, and sometimes you just kill the opponent. Notably only one of two rares on this list.

2. Three Steps Ahead

Three Steps ahead

Already talked about this. Also rare.

1. Phantom Interference

Phantom Interference

The second ability is literally Quench. Ergo this card is strictly better than Quench. In fact, it might be better than Quench in decks where Quench was quite good, in the way that cards in those decks wanted to be played. I myself once won a PTQ with three copies of Quench in my deck - and not that long ago - leading me to believe that, almost unbelievably, Phantom Interference is the best Spree card in Outlaws of Thunder Junction.

Bet you never thought you'd read that sentence.

LOVE

MIKE


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